Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5 Complaints About the Wii (And Why They're Wrong)

Today we're deconstructing the criticism of the Wii. We've defended the Wii in the past, but we'll do it again because a lot of this bears repeating. Here's a sample conglomerate of all the current Wii criticism:

"The Wii was the most underpowered system, and since Nintendo wimped out on system specs all they got were the casual users. Now that the casuals have all moved to smartphones and tablets, no one is buying their system and no hardcore gamers will ever buy Nintendo products again because Nintendo embraced the casuals."

Let's go through these criticisms one by one.

"The Wii was too underpowered!"
In comparison with the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3, the Wii was definitely underpowered. That is a correct statement on face value, but no one stops and asks why the Wii was underpowered in the first place. It wasn't underpowered because Nintendo was stupid or wanted to turn its back on the casuals. It was underpowered because it just plain made sense at the time.

HDTV adoption took a while. A recently as 2010, only half of all households had HDTVs. No matter how amazing your videogame system's graphics are, it's going to look like garbage on an SDTV. Why would Nintendo go crazy and spend so much money on something that 50% of all people aren't going to see?

That's another factor that gets forgotten: Money. The cost to make an HD system was prohibitive when Nintendo launched the Wii, as evidenced by the PS3's high price point of $599. Microsoft sold the 360 for far less, but lost money on it for years. Nintendo had no desire to lose money, and they've always avoiding doing so on their hardware. For that reason, they didn't follow in lockstep with the rest of the console makers.

It was the right call, too. Nintendo turned in record profits year after year while Sony's gaming devision floundered and is in serious danger. Microsoft lost a bit of money of the 360, but they have enough to spare that it wasn't a big deal.
"Well, why didn't they release an HD version a few years ago?"
Why would they? Once again, only half of all TVs were HD. Just because Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan says to do something doesn't mean you should.

Besides, the Wii has succeeded precisely because it's simple. Us techies may understand the difference between a PS3 60GB unit with downwards compatibility and a PS3 Slim with a 160GB hard drive, but most people have no clue. While other systems came in a variety of flavors, the Wii has always been just the Wii.

That's helpful for consumers, and throwing a Wii-HD into the mix creates more hassles and confusion, something Nintendo is explicitly trying to avoid.
"All of this shows that Nintendo only wants casual gamers!"
Casual gamers is such a perjorative term and I hate it, but whatever.

The most successful tech companies in the world have become successful because they've expanded their reach beyond the niche that was already aware of them. To name a few:
  • Microsoft escaped from the business-software ghetto and became a juggernaut of immense proportions by marketing Windows 95 to home users.
  • Facebook escaped the college-only social network scene and made billions by making Facebook easy to use for all users.
  • Apple escaped certain death by marketing their products to an audience that didn't know they wanted an iPod until they bought one.
And so on. Nintendo actively sought "casual gamers" because that's what a good business does: They found a need and filled it.

Along the way, Nintendo released games that showed that they hadn't forgotten the hardcore crowd: Punch-Out, Xenoblade Chronicles, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Zelda: Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, and on and on.

People have always been complaining that Nintendo is a "kiddie" company or leaves the hardcore gamers alone, and I think Nintendo couldn't give a crap. The purpose of a business is to make money, and Nintendo has a big pile of money they can point to that says they're doing the right thing.
"The casuals have moved away from Nintendo, though. Nintendo posted their biggest loss ever. That proves that the Wii was a bad choice for them."
When has any videogame system ever sold like gangbusters right up until the moment that it was replaced? Every system suffers a tail-off period before it's replaced.

Did the Wii tail off faster than Nintendo hoped? Yes. I will agree that Nintendo may have waited about a year too long to replace the Wii with something else, because six-year-old technology isn't the kind of thing that brings all the boys to the yard.

That doesn't mean that all users have moved to smartphones and tablets, though. Like we said when explaining why the 3DS is fine, they're replacing their PCs with smartphones and tablets, not their videogame systems. The market is still there, waiting patiently to be awoken.
"No hardcore gamers will ever buy another Nintendo product again after the way they were treated by the Wii."

Gamers are fickle. They go where the games are. They have no brand loyalty in the long-term. If gamers had brand loyalty, the Playstation would never have succeeded and Sega would be making the Dreamcast 2 now.

If the Wii U is cool and the games are fun, the hardcore will come back. Then they'll start whining about Nintendo again and promise to never buy another Nintendo system, then turn around and buy another Nintendo product when they have something cool again. It's inevitable.

And how will the Wii U turn out? We'll answer that in the next article.

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